My grandmother has had this painting hanging in her dining room for as long as I can remember. I always liked how delightfully out of place it seemed, this beautiful painting in its gilt frame, in my grandparents’ ordinary Brooklyn apartment. It was mysterious, and all my grandmother ever told me about it was that she brought it with her when she came from Rome. I guess I was content to let it remain a mystery, as I never considered finding out what this painting was called or who painted it, so it was a surprise to me to find its original hanging in the National Gallery of Art.
There are a lot of reasons why this painting is a masterpiece. The colors of her dress and the cushion beneath her are bright and sumptuous and inviting. There’s a beautiful grace in the curve of her forehead, in the line of her neck sliding into the ruffle, the delicacy of her hand holding the book. But I think what I like most is her expression while reading. Leaning back in the chair, her arm draped over the armrest, she’s completely absorbed in the book, in a serene state of being that any lover of reading can appreciate. The soft style of the portrait enhances the dreaminess of the scene, the artful loveliness of this moment paused in time, a young girl engrossed in her reading.
This subject, in its beauty, has been revisited countless times:
(Woman Reading, Pierre-August Renoir)
(Girl Reading, Charles Edward Perugini)
(Delphin Enjolras, Coucouron)